Seeing passes from a great quarterback makes life much easier for a wide receiver. This was a major factor in helping David Patten decide that New England was a good place to be.
In his four seasons in the NFL, Patten has seen offenses run by the likes of Danny Kanell, Kerry Collins, Tim Couch and Doug Pederson. Kanell and Pederson are marginal backups, and Patten saw Collins when the Giants quarterback was starting to resurrect his career after a disaster with New Orleans. Couch was the most talented of the group, but he is still learning the game after just two seasons as a professional.
Having a quarterback like Drew Bledsoe really was key for Patten.
"Basically I wanted the opportunity to play with a better quarterback," Patten said. "The opportunity to play with a guy like Drew Bledsoe, along with some of the receivers here, I felt I could add to the talent already here. We are capable of being a playoff team, and that's what I was looking for."
Patten is not shy about wanting the ball, a desirable trait for any receiver. If nothing else, he knew the Patriots had Bledsoe and they liked to throw the ball. To him, it sounded like the place to be was New England.
"Last year I saw that New England threw the ball 50 times a game," Patten said. "Anytime you are a receiver, that's the kind of offense you want to be associated with. You know the ball is going to be in the air, and you know you have a veteran quarterback who is not going to key in on one receiver. He is going to go wherever the open guy is, and that's going to make your good receivers even better receivers."
Early in his career the 5-10, 195-pound Patten was mainly a kick returner. In three seasons with the New York Giants he had 33 catches in 44 games. Last season, his first with the Browns, he set career-highs with 38 grabs for 546 yards and an average of 14.4 yards per catch.
"In Cleveland I was given the opportunity to be a receiver," Patten said. "I always knew that I had the talent and the ability, and Cleveland saw that. They have stressed here in New England that I will have every opportunity to be a receiver. I feel like I can go out there and compete with the best of them, and the only thing I ask for is an opportunity. I felt a sense of sincerity in talking with offensive coordinator Charlie Weis that the best players were going to be on the field, and that's the kind of organization I want to be involved with."
In Cleveland, Patten started out fast. Through seven games he had 22 receptions. Then he suffered a case of turf toe, and Couch was lost for the season with a broken thumb. Several other receivers were banged up, and a promising start to the season turned ugly for the Browns.
"We got off to a great start before the injury bug kind of hit us," Patten said. "A lot of guys were falling off, and then Tim went down too. Anytime you are working with a quarterback and a new guy comes in, you have to get the timing down and you have to figure out what the guy likes. He also has to know what kind of receivers he is working with.
"All of those things, trying to work out the kinks (in the middle of the season), kind of put a damper on our progress. Tim is a young quarterback and he's going to be a great quarterback, but he is still learning the game. Just looking at Drew, he has been in the league nine years and is an established guy. He has as much experience as anyone out there now, and I saw it as a good opportunity. I signed a one-year deal and I am looking to have a breakout year."
That breakout season is important to Patten. He wants to be known as a receiver, not just a return man. For his career, he has averaged a solid 20.7 yards on 106 kick returns, and he expects to be utilized in special teams with the Patriots. His goal, though, is to prove his worth on offense.
"Without a doubt the turf toe was frustrating last year," Patten said. "I was on pace for a breakout year to hopefully enhance my career and finally get established as a receiver, and not a special teams guy. The injury came, and it was something I didn't have control over. It was in the Lord's hands, and I had to wait until he healed my toe. When I came back, I finished up pretty good."
Patten, who served as Cleveland's top deep threat last season, feels confident he can contribute immediately for the Patriots. Once he is comfortable with the terminology of the offense, the rest will fall into place.
"It's a different scheme, but when you play football, it's still the game of football," Patten said. "If you run a route in one place, you can run them anywhere. It's just a matter of picking up certain cues and signals.
"Whenever you have an assignment, you have to go out there and perform. That's why we practice day-in and day-out. When game time comes, you either have to show up or you are going to be out of here. For the young guys and new guys, it's a matter of learning the game and learning your blitz adjustments. The more you know, the more comfortable you are, which enables you to go out and play."